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Not for the faint of heart: public relations specialist
This is not a job for cynics or introverts — if you’re either, chances are you’re not going to love it here in the world of public relations (PR). Just take a closer look at the actual title of the job: Public. Relations. Get it? That’s right — people and relationships! But there’s more to it than just being good at people and developing relationships. You also have to have the unique ability to either genuinely believe or, at the least, convince yourself — and others — that you do believe in the product or the event you’re trying to get out there in the world. People will see through fakeness but if you’re a great actor, you may be able to pull it off too (though perhaps acting would be a better profession ...). Still, those best suited for the job are the people who are naturally outgoing, positive, creative and have superb communication skills.
In this job you often have to have a thick skin. Chances are you will, at some point, deal with a client who’s unpleasant or with media who look down on PR people simply because some “journalists generally feel they hold the moral high ground,” as Matt LaCasse writes in PR vs. Journalism: Time to End the Rivalry article. So if you have an ego that’s easily bruised, think twice before getting into this field. Be aware that you might also get stuck doing a PR campaign for ... a baby.
The main goal of a public relations specialist is to create publicity for the client (for the product) and this may mean campaigning for anything or anyone — a bar of soap, a bottle of water, an organization or a politician. In this modern age a PR person deals with all kinds of opinion makers — from bloggers (yes) to media outlets to other influencers (such as art or political critics, celebrities, other public personalities).
So what do they do exactly?
Anything and everything — confer with clients, decide on public relations campaigns (via video, via Twitter, via… everything?), set up lists of appropriate contacts to spread the word to and, hopefully, get coverage. They keep in touch with clients and send them updates on progress. They set up events and launches for products and campaigns. They make sure that clients are happy and that may just mean spending an evening with a clipboard at a gallery entrance and greeting everyone in attendance with a megawatt smile. Or getting Jennifer Aston a bottle of water. Or making sure cupcakes get delivered to a book launch.
But, of course, the real crux of the job lies in details and organization. And abilities that go beyond successful communication. According to the Public Relations Specialist: Job Profile & Salary overview, as a PR specialist, “You'll be asked to create print and web-based communications materials — which may include story pitches, press releases, Q&As, presentations, video scripts, and speeches — ensuring they are consistent with your client's image and message. Other responsibilities range from acting as a company spokesperson for a wider variety of media inquiries and speaking directly to the press on behalf of your client (sometimes deflecting negative criticism) to preparing your client for press conferences, media interviews, and speeches.” This is challenging because it requires you to be an absolute multi-tasker while maintaining an absolutely positive outlook and professional demeanor — you often are the first person the media (and the public) deals with when finding out about the product, the company or the person you represent.
The National Occupational Classification (NOC) lists some of the other tasks that are part of PR specialist’s duties. Some of the duties are (annotated):
- Collecting and researching materials for campaigns – this may include conducting surveys and organizing focus groups
- Preparing and delivering educational and publicity programs to increase awareness of places such as museums, galleries or tourist attractions (for example, check out one company, Brown & Cohen Communications & Public Affairs Inc., which was behind campaigns for the Ontario Historical Society and Environment Canada)
- Arranging interviews and news conferences — for example, in practice, this may mean putting the appropriate journalist in touch with the celebrity who is behind a specific campaign
- Representing and acting as agents for individual clients — a musician can hire a PR company to help him/her spread the word about a new album
- Preparing and overseeing preparation of specific performances such as a fashion show
According to Job Futures Quebec, “Over the last few years, employment in professional occupations in public relations and communications has risen significantly. The increase is due to the growth in company demand for communications in order to reach both internal and external clienteles. This significant rising trend in employment should continue over the next few years.” Despite the good growth rate, job prospects in this occupation are fair.
Where do they go to school?
You don’t necessarily need a certificate in public relations to work in the field. A university degree or college diploma in communications or journalism may be sufficient. However, there are a few schools in Toronto that offer PR certifications, such as Humber College, which “has the longest-running PR program in Canada,” or Centennial College or Ryerson University.
Some PR specialists get into the field through working in some other capacity — such as a journalist. This article in Princeton Review reads, “Because public relations people work so closely with the media there is often a great deal of exchange between these fields. Many PR people become journalists to exercise more creativity; a number of journalists turn to public relations for better money. PR people also often go into marketing, particularly at the more senior levels.”
The NOC profile mentions that some practitioners in public relations may require an APR (Accredited in Public Relations) designation.